By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Dec 23, 2020 at 1:05 PM

Adjunct lagers are nothing new in American brewing – and rice has been an ingredient since the 19th century – but a Lao-inspired sticky rice lager? That’s something different.

Add in the reliance on a hop rarely used by Milwaukee-area brewers and the new Thum Phuk Sticky Rice Lager promises to be a unique beer.

The 5 percent ABV brew is made and sold in southeastern Wisconsin by Burlington’s Low Daily Brewing for Thum Phuk, founded by the owners of SapSap, the Burlington catering business that also does Laotian popups at restaurants in the Milwaukee and Racine areas.

The beer was on Nov. 2 and has since been lagering.

Thum Phuk is brewed with Saaz and Sorachi Ace hops – a variety created in Japan and known for its herbal and lemon-y flavors, like lemon peel and sharper lemongrass – and with pilsner malt, flaked rice and, yes, sticky rice.

Those lemongrass and herbal flavors are a perfect complement to Lao cuisine, says SapSap’s Alex Hanesakda.

“Sorachi Ace was something brewmaster Tim (Sullivan) came up with after sampling some staple SapSap flavors, like lemongrass and kaffir lime,” says Hanesakda. “We agreed that it's a perfect hop to build our family of beer on.

“In the not too distant future we'll have a version of the Sticky Rice Lager taken to another level of Southeast Asian citrus with an actual infusion of lemongrass and kaffir lime.”

After checking with a number of area brewers, I could come up with only three other local beers that have used Sorachi Ace.

One of the brewers who has used it is Corey Blodgett at Gathering Place, who says it's rarity is, "because Sorachi Ace has an unusual dill aroma. It was in Heated Debate but I took it out, (but) I will probably use some on the pilot beers."

Enlightened Brewing’s James Larson, who used it in Te Ipsum IPA, is a fan.

“I personally love Sorachi Ace,” says Larson, who hopes to bring Te Ipsum back in 2021. “I think the funky lemongrass/dill sort of tasting notes are wild.

“I first fell in love with Sorachi Ace from drinking Brooklyn Brewey's Sorachi Ace saison.”

In the Lao language, “thum” means to crush or smash – and it also means "cheers" – Hanesakda says, and “phuk” means to chop.

“Southeast Asian-inspired ingredients are crushed and chopped in the process of creating Thum Phuk’s unique beers,” he adds.

According to Hanesakda, a portion of the proceeds will benefit efforts to clear unexploded mines from the Laos landscape.

“While we’re having fun, we never forget that as a refugee-owned company,” he says. “Our success happens in interdependence with our customers and our community. Together we realize the American dream.

“Thum Phuk stems from the Lao refugee experience in particular. Two million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Over 30 percent of the country is still covered in unexploded ordnance (UXO). Five percent of profits from Thum Phuk beverages fund efforts to remove UXO from Laos.”

The beer is expected to be released in four-pack 16-ounce cans in January, says Hanesakda, as well as on tap at Low Daily in Burlington.

“We also have a growing list of restaurants in southeastern Wisconsin that will carry Thum Phuk,” he says. “We're working on distribution to grocery and liquor stores, as well.”

In addition to the lime-infused version of Sticky Rice Lager that Haneskda promises, he also plans to release other beers in the future, including a lemongrass IPA and a spicy chili pepper brew.

He’s also looking at other products, too, including spirits.

“SapSap food across the board pairs beautifully with beer and spirits, so we felt it was a natural progression to create our own, guided by the same tradition and flavor profiles,” says Haneskda.

“The Sticky Rice Lager will be our flagship, and we'll build on it to create other lagers, and we also have the very unique IPA coming up, and down the road, hard seltzers and Lao whiskey.”

When asked if the IPA would also make use of Sorachi Ace hops, Haneskda said that the recipe is still in the development stage.

For now, Haneskda plans to continue to collaborate with Low Daily, but is keeping an open mind about the future.

“We're super happy and grateful for our partnership with Low Daily Brewery,” he say. “Their brewmaster Tim Sullivan is fantastic and really gets our flavors and vibe. We can see ourselves growing along with Low Daily quite nicely, but further down the road it's entirely possible we'd open a brewery of our own. I’m excited for the journey!”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.